Saturday 24 February 2018

Martin will face push-back from his peers

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

Sarah MacDonald

Many Catholic educational establishments in Ireland were founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to provide for those whose poverty meant they had little or no hope of an education.

But that radical founding vision soon gave way to a more protectionist closed Catholic culture as the Church established a monopoly in education and healthcare provision in the newly independent State. The State benefited as religious orders fulfilled a role which in most countries was the State's responsibility.

Reflecting on changes in Irish religious culture today, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has suggested the Church's failure in recent years to divest some of its schools and embrace modernity has left the Church-State relationship vulnerable to increased hostility.

Frustration with religious patrons' refusal to countenance change is likely to boil over and foster a more fractious environment.

Change is always difficult and there are always winners and losers. That change in educational provision and patronage is necessary, after the census results showed the percentage of the population who identified as Catholic had fallen from 84.2pc in 2011 to 78.3pc in 2016.

The second largest group after Catholicism was those who registered as having 'no religion', a group now comprising almost 10pc of the population. As Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has noted "more and more people want something else". While less than 80pc of the population registered itself as Catholic, almost 90pc of all primary schools in Ireland remain under religious patronage, and are almost fully financed by the State.

Archbishop Martin has conveyed his own frustration with this state of play, hitting out at those within the Church hindering divestment and greater pluralism in education provision. He has warned those blocking change that they risk fanning hostility between Church and State and making it more difficult to maintain a truly Catholic ethos in Catholic schools.

But, his view is likely to be challenged by those within the Church who feel the State's encroachment on Catholic schools must be stopped, as they are scapegoating the Church to cover up the State's lack of investment in education, resulting in a major resource deficit. Seamus Mulconry, of the Catholic Primary School Management Association, claimed on RTÉ's Sean O'Rourke programme recently that Catholic schools are being singled out.

Archbishop Martin's call may be music to the State's ears but may sound slightly off key to many in the Catholic education sector.

Irish Independent

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